Turning point

Posted by lex, on December 21, 2007

In April of 2007, it appeared clear to everyone but the president and a few desperate hangers-on that no options remained in Iraq besides humiliating withdrawal, national defeat and sectarian genocide. Time Magazine op-ed writer Joe Klein said this of President Bush’s “surge” strategy in an article entitled “An Administration’s Epic Collapse“:

The three big Bush stories of 2007–the decision to “surge” in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons–precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).

Four months into the year and Klein had decided the arc of the president’s 2007. But by September Klein’s tone had shifted subtly. In an article entitled “Hiding Behind the General,” Klein wrote:

(Civilian) leaders—the Commander in Chief—are there to set the mission, to change or abort it when necessary. The trouble is, George W. Bush’s credibility on Iraq is nonexistent. And so he has placed David Petraeus, an excellent soldier, in a position way above his pay grade. He has made Petraeus not just the arbiter of Iraq strategy but also, by default, the man who sets U.S. policy for the entire so-called war on terrorism.

Having established to his own satisfaction that the commander-in-chief lacked the credibility to execute the duties of the office he had been elected to fill, the pundit was nevertheless clever enough to create for himself an off-ramp in the unlikely event that the president’s surge strategy worked. To do so and maintain his inveterate hostililty required altering the metaphor of an albatross hanging around Bush’s neck to one that the president had strung across the shoulders of a brave but over-matched officer.

Clever move. In this month’s Person of the Year Runner Up article, Klein is forced to give the general grudging accolades:

Petraeus has not failed, which, given the anarchy and pessimism of February, must be considered something of a triumph. The sketchy progress he has made is the result of equal parts luck and skill. The Sunni tribal revolt against the violent grip of Salafist extremists (most notably, al-Qaeda in Iraq) was already under way when Petraeus arrived. But he was smart enough to encourage and fund the Anbar Awakening, even though Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated central government was opposed. The pacification of Anbar, the most violent province in 2006, has been the signal success of 2007.

As has the pacification of Baghdad, Klein goes on to admit. Through clenched teeth. And to complete the transubstantiation of dirty water to sweet wine, you will search that last article in vain for the name of the president who sent General David Petraeus to Iraq with 30,000 soldiers over the passionate objections of nearly everyone among the beltway good and the great. Among whom Joe Klein no doubt numbers himself.

But give the man this: Even as Klein airbrushes the president out of the picture of success he at least recognizes it when it tweaks him on the nose. And after all, we do not require consistency of our pundits, who only have to recognize reality.

It is a sovereign virtue however, in those who would wish to shape it.

Now then: Shall we talk about something else?

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, GWOT

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